The black and white carbuncle

Cod Almighty | Article

by Pat Bell

25 December 2019

Any resemblance between the characters in this story and anyone associated with Grimsby Town Football Club is entirely coincidental

I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas with the intention of paying him the compliments of the season.

I found him sitting upright in his easy chair, filling his pipe, a look of eager anticipation spread across his features.

"Ah, Watson, your arrival is most timely. Tell me, what do you make of that goose, there on the table?"

He directed my attention to what was a large bird, although its breast was somewhat hollow. It had white feathers with some black, greyed with dirt, and moulting. An enlarged crop accentuated its scraggy neck. A faint odour emanating across the room gave witness that this was a goose which had been killed some days ago and that its consumption was overdue.

"Beyond the fact that it is fit scarcely even to provide quill pens, I make nothing of it Holmes." I replied. "How did you come by it?"

"It is quite a seasonal mystery, is it not, Watson? The fowl was brought to me not half an hour ago by one Cleethorpe Grimesby. He is a sporting fellow and recounted to me that he had been making his way along Alexandra Road after spending some time in a local hostelry, when he was almost knocked off his feet by a horsebox being driven with rather too much haste. As the vehicle swerved to return to the carriageway the goose fell from its rear.

"The horsebox sped on its way, the driver heedless to all advice that he had lost his cargo. Whereupon my client resolved to bring the bird to me the next day - that is today - to seek my advice on restoring it to its rightful owner."

"Did he see the driver?"

"Only the fleeting impression that he wore a polo-necked jumper. However, I have been able to make a few trifling deductions which may afford us further clues. From the size of the bird, we can deduce the owner is a prosperous man. However, the goose was evidently kept in a state of malnutrition and neglect, so that it is now worth only a fraction of what he must have paid for it, if, indeed, it is worth anything at all. Add this to the evidence of his behaviour yesterday evening and I think we can be confident this is a man unjustly confident in his own powers and judgement, deaf to the views of others and apt to mar his investments for want of attention to day-to-day expenses."

I rose to the ceiling at this demonstration of my friends remarkable powers. "Astounding, Holmes. How shall you proceed. An advertisement in the local newspapers perhaps?"

Holmes lay on the sofa with his violin, playing the tune "Up the Mariners" with such a dolorous air it was evident he did not anticipate the day when the Cup would be won would be any time soon

"No one reads classified ads nowadays, Watson. I may try Facebook. But there are one or two other avenues open to me. I fancy a closer examination of the fowl may be called for."

So saying, he jumped smartly to his feet, and began to usher me towards the door. "No doubt your practice calls, Watson, but if you would care to be back here at six this evening, I am confident you shall see the denouement of this little mystery."

When I returned at the appointed hour, I found that Holmes's mood had quite changed. He lay on the sofa with his violin, playing the tune "Up the Mariners" with such a dolorous air it was evident my great friend did not anticipate the day when the Cup would be won would be time soon.

The goose remained where it had been that morning, but its crop was no longer enlarged. Despite the odour, which had only increased through the day, I was able to get close enough to observe that an incision in the neck had been neatly stitched together. Beside the bird, there now lay what looked like an unremarkable stone.

I had no chance to inspect it further before the doorbell rang. Holmes finally broke off from his playing.

"The case has taken a darker turn, Watson. But that will be our goose-holder, unless I am mistaken. Let us see what he has to say to us."

The gentleman who entered was very much the model of the prosperous businessman Holmes had described from an inspection of the goose. He was expensively dressed, albeit in a style which suggested more money than taste. He eyed us warily, even as he inched towards the goose.

"A moment please." Holmes stretched out an arm to detain him. "Perhaps you would like to introduce yourself?"

"My name is Jonty Fenn, and you must be that meddler Mr Sherlock Holmes. I must say that the imposition to myself of being without this goose has been not inconsiderable."

"Quite so, and if you will be good enough to take away this foul fowl, that shall be sufficient reward for the trouble I have taken to reunite you with it. December is really not a time one cares to have the windows opened wide. However, I am sure my good friend Dr Watson, and indeed my housekeeper Mrs Hudson would join me in advising you against trying to eat this goose. It may once have been a noble bird, but it is now unfit even for the meanest catering van."

"Mr Holmes, I have been the custodian of this goose for many years. I have safeguarded it carefully, with like-minded, respectable people also willing to invest in chicken feed. I am grateful to you for restoring my property, but I do not think it is your place to tell me how I should run my affairs."

"Well, we must agree to differ. By the way, do you know anything about that stone I have placed next to the goose?"

"It's just an ordinary stone." Fenn replied. "I should toss it in the wastepaper bin if I were you. I can see you are no businessman, Mr Holmes, to concern yourself with such trifles."

"Perhaps you are right. I think our business here is finished Mr Fenn, if you would like to take the goose. Perhaps you will at least drive your horsebox with a little more care in future."

Fenn let out a harumph. Snatching up the goose, he declared "If you are referring to the accident I nearly suffered yesterday, it was entirely the fault of the road authorities and the collapse of ITV Digital. I have already provided a perfectly clear exposition on this, quite over and above my responsibilities to those who continue to question my practices, on YouTube" With that, and a banging of the door, Mr Fenn was gone.

Holmes looked after him for a moment, then took up the poker and attended rigorously to the fire for some minutes.

"Hardly a Napoleon of crime, Watson, our haughty Mr Jonty Fenn." he spoke, finally. "If I'm reminded of anyone it is Charles Augustus Milverton."

"Holmes, what is that stone"

"Observing the size of the goose's neck, I thought a delicate excision might be appropriate. The stone was lodged in its crop. Take a look, Watson" 

So saying, he handed me the stone. I was about to remark that it seemed commonplace, but then, as I regarded it more closely, I realised I held in my hand a precious gem. As I turned it this way and that in the light, each one of the diamond's hundreds of facets seemed to glow alternately black and white.

"What is it, Holmes?" I gasped.

"This is the black and white carbuncle. Some call it the Bestall Stone. It has been missing more than 16 years."

"No doubt a gem of huge value, prized in the highest society, which has inspired untold deeds of villainy from across four continents?"

"On the contrary. This is a diamond whose true worth lies only in the eye of the beholder. To some, it is a dull, grey object, that they might use as a skimming stone. But in it the attentive observer can see scenes of great individual and collective endeavour spread over a century and more: a coming together of peoples, for long periods submerged in stoicism and thinning patience, but then lit by the most glorious excitement, sunlight and celebration. It is not a jewel that you can put a value on."

"So does this carbuncle not belong to Mr Fenn, just as much as the goose, Holmes?"

"I hardly think so Watson. In fact, I don't think so at all. We must wait until its proper owner comes forward. Or owners, perhaps I should say. Now, if you would like to reach for my laptop, I believe we can profitably spend some time watching YouTube."

"To watch Fenn's statement?"

"I hardly think that could be called profitable, Watson. But I believe there is new footage of Clive Mendonca we shall enjoy. One day I must tell you of the small role I had in restoring him to the public eye after he had been absent more than a year, supposedly injured. The case turned upon the singular behaviour of a one-legged fishmonger. But perhaps the public is not quite ready for that tale. My pipe, the tobacco, and the laptop, if you please, Watson."

Front page image from Wikipedia. Further cases of Sherlock Holmes can be found in diaries here and hereFeedback